Updated: The Democratic Party just isn’t that into you

Updates, November 5, 2014: The initial portion of this post was published on November 4, 2014 at 11:42 pm and remains unmodified. There are significant updates appended and the publication date has been modified.

A bunch of my Facebook friends are now presumably in mourning. They have been convinced that the Democrats are the only road to salvation for a progressive agenda. But the Democrats have apparently lost badly tonight.[1]

It’s still a bit early for the pundits to actually react to this, but there’s been plenty of commentary preceding the election. Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat thinks it’s about competence:

The public isn’t necessarily turning neoconservative or pining for the days of Bush. Instead, it mostly reflects a results-based verdict on what seems like poor execution, in which the White House’s slow response to ISIS is of a piece with the Obamacare rollout and the V.A. scandal and various other second-term asleep-at-the-tiller moments. It’s a problem of leadership that reflects badly on liberalism but doesn’t necessarily vindicate conservatism.[2]

Dave Boyer at the Moonie-controlled Washington Times points out that Obama has lost his political base of support. He points to Hispanics on immigration policy; millenials on the economy and domestic spying; women on the economy; “[e]xamples of government incompetence, from the botched rollout of Obamacare last year to the problems exposed in health care for veterans;” and “the far left of the Democratic Party that has lost patience with Mr. Obama’s inability to enact the more activist progressive agenda that they expected.”[3]

“Republican obstructionism cannot explain allowing the bugging of foreign leaders, nor having drones strike innocent children overseas,” [Nathaniel] Morris wrote. “It cannot explain having the National Security Agency collect data on the private lives of Americans, nor prosecuting whistleblowers who reveal government wrongdoing.”[4]

I don’t know how much each of the factors Boyer lists affected tonight’s outcome. Obama has been tone-deaf on the economy, for example, denying people’s own experience in insisting that things are getting better.[5] And it does indeed seem that Hispanics are pretty unhappy about Obama’s waffling on immigration policy.[6]

“Our community will not accept political excuses,” [Cristina] Jimenez [United We Dream, a group advocating for immigration reform] added on a conference call, just days after Hispanic advocates interrupted Hillary Clinton at a campaign stop for Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), whose fate is crucial for Democratic hopes to keep the Senate.[7]

But it’s worth remembering that the Obama administration has consistently taken progressives for granted[8] on the theory that they had no one else to vote for and would reliably vote Democratic because, it is claimed, the Republicans are so much worse. [9]

One thing is apparent. Democrats have been ignoring their base for so long, they’re now completely out of touch with it: “Doug Thornell, a Democratic strategist, insisted that the party has hit the right notes in trying to energize the base this year.”[10]

Tonight’s ‘disaster’ is far from unprecedented. Democrats have been tacking to the right ever since “right-wing liberals” defected to Republicans in the wake of Richard Nixon’s landslide victory over George McGovern in 1972. It’s not a strategy that can be said to have worked out well for them. But my guess is that just as they won’t relinquish neoliberalism, they won’t give this strategy up either.

Update #1, November 5, 2014: As exit polling analysis emerges, it seems clear that Republican efforts to cast the election as a referendum on President Obama succeeded and that Democratic Party efforts to get young voters to treat a midterm election as seriously as they do a presidential election and to turn out failed.[11] It also appears that the much-heralded demographic advantage for Democrats, that is, that as the white population becomes less predominant, is not quite as huge an advantage for Democrats after all.[12] Finally, it appears that whites, especially those feeling economically threatened, did turn out and voted Republican, which is to say that Democratic efforts to assume a populist mantle against plutocracy fell flat.[13]

Yet despite the economic recovery, it is precisely these voters, particularly the white middle and working classes, who, for now, have deserted the Democrats for the GOP, the assumed party of plutocracy. The key in the 2014 mid-term elections was concern about the economy; early exit polls Tuesday tonight showed that seven in 10 voters viewed the economy negatively, and this did not help the Democratic cause.

“The Democrats have committed political malpractice,” says Morley Winograd, a longtime party activist and a former top aide to Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton years. “They have not discussed the economy and have no real program. They are offering the middle class nothing.”

Winograd believes that the depth of white middle- and working-class angst threatens the bold predictions in recent years about an “emerging Democratic majority” based on women, millennials, minorities and professionals. Non-college educated voters broke heavily for the GOP, according to the exit polling, including some 62% of white non-college voters. This reflects a growing trend: 20 years ago districts with white, working-class majorities tilted slightly Democratic; before the election they favored the GOP by a 5 to 1 margin, and several of the last white, Democratic congressional holdovers from the South, notably West Virginia’s Nick Rahall and Georgia’s John Barrow, went down to defeat Tuesday night.[14]

To me, this really appears as an electorate that simply felt the Democratic Party had failed to earn its vote, probably largely because a lot of people, as I have argued in the past, really are worse off after six years of Obama.[15]

Update #2, November 5, 2014: Joan Walsh smartly points out the contradictions Democrats faced in this election, particularly between whites who tend resist immigration and Hispanics who may be increasingly crucial for some candidates.[16] John Cassidy amplifies this, pointing out that the Democratic vote “collapsed in the South.”[17] Cassidy also writes,

How dissatisfied was the electorate? According to the national exit poll, fifty-nine per cent of voters said that they were angry or disappointed with the Obama Administration. Seven in ten said that the economy is in bad shape, and just one in three said it is improving. Sixty-five per cent of respondents said that the country was seriously off-track. That last figure is twelve points higher than the equivalent finding in the exit poll taken during the 2012 Presidential election.[18]

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that while Republicans moved aggressively to shore up weak campaigns and keep candidates from repeating the gaffes that have plagued earlier campaigns, Democrats were bickering.[19] On one level, this shows that the Republicans wanted these victories more and worked harder for them. On another, it reveals a Democratic arrogance, with Obama especially believing his own bullshit about the economy.

I guess the lessons I would offer Democrats are that 1) complaining about the other party doesn’t pay ordinary people’s bills or put food on their tables, and 2) a recovery on Wall Street that has largely left Main Street cold doesn’t pay ordinary people’s bills or put food on their tables. For six years now, Obama has expected the public to be patient about the economy. Anyone who actually has to pay bills and put food on the table knows that simply doesn’t cut it. Democrats have been arrogant about the problems of real people and they have finally paid what is really a very small price for their arrogance.

  1. [1]Economist, “US 2014 mid-term election results,” Economist, November 4, 2014, http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2014/11/us-2014-mid-term-election-results; Dylan Scott, “How Bad Was It For Democrats?” Talking Points Memo, November 5, 2014, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/how-bad-was-it-for-democrats
  2. [2]Ross Douthat, “How Obama Lost America,” New York Times, November 1, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/opinion/sunday/ross-douthat-how-obama-lost-america.html
  3. [3]Dave Boyer, “Obama loses his base as broken promises breed disillusioned Democrats,” Washington Times, November 3, 2014, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/nov/3/obama-loses-his-base-as-broken-promises-breed-disi/
  4. [4]Dave Boyer, “Obama loses his base as broken promises breed disillusioned Democrats,” Washington Times, November 3, 2014, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/nov/3/obama-loses-his-base-as-broken-promises-breed-disi/
  5. [5]Rebecca Shabad, “Voters disgruntled with economy,” Hill, November 1, 2014, http://thehill.com/policy/finance/222471-voters-disgruntled-with-obama-economy
  6. [6]Bernie Becker, “Base dissatisfied with Dems,” Hill, October 31, 2014, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/222410-dem-base-what-about-us
  7. [7]Bernie Becker, “Base dissatisfied with Dems,” Hill, October 31, 2014, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/222410-dem-base-what-about-us
  8. [8]Blue Texan [pseud.], “Ed Rendell Tells Democratic Base to “Get Over It” on Rachel Maddow,” Firedoglake, September 23, 2010, http://firedoglake.com/2010/09/23/early-morning-swim-ed-rendell-tells-democratic-base-to-get-over-it-on-rachel-maddow/; Blue Texan [pseud.], “Stop Whining, Liberals!” Firedoglake, September 27, 2010, http://firedoglake.com/2010/09/27/late-night-stop-whining-liberals/; Michael Falcone, “Opposite Day On The Campaign Trail?” ABC News, September 21, 2010, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2010/09/election-2010-opposite-day-on-the-campaign-trail/; Glenn Greenwald, “Obama’s view of liberal criticisms,” Salon, September 17, 2010, http://www.salon.com/2010/09/17/obama_139/; Greg Sargent, “Liberal blogger directly confronts David Axelrod, accuses White House of ‘hippie punching’,” Washington Post, September 23, 2010, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/09/liberal_blogger_directly_confr.html; Sam Youngman, “White House unloads anger over criticism from ‘professional left’,” Hill, August 10, 2010, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/113431-white-house-unloads-on-professional-left
  9. [9]Akira Watts, “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Notes on a Wretched Election Season,” Truthout, October 24, 2014, http://truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/why-we-can-t-have-nice-things-notes-on-a-wretched-election-season
  10. [10]Bernie Becker, “Base dissatisfied with Dems,” Hill, October 31, 2014, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/222410-dem-base-what-about-us
  11. [11]John Dickerson, “The Republican Party ran against Obama, and the president lost big-time,” Slate, November 5, 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/11/republican_party_wins_the_midterms_democrats_couldn_t_escape_president_obama.html
  12. [12]Ed Kilgore, “What The Hell Happened To The Democratic Vote?” Talking Points Memo, November 5, 2014, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/what-the-hell-happened-to-the-democratic-vote
  13. [13]Joel Kotkin, “The Demographics That Sank The Democrats In The Midterm Elections,” Forbes, November 5, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/joelkotkin/2014/11/05/the-demographics-that-sank-the-democrats-in-the-mid-term-elections/
  14. [14]Joel Kotkin, “The Demographics That Sank The Democrats In The Midterm Elections,” Forbes, November 5, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/joelkotkin/2014/11/05/the-demographics-that-sank-the-democrats-in-the-mid-term-elections/
  15. [15]David Benfell, “Yes, people are worse off than when Obama took office,” Not Housebroken, September 30, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6690
  16. [16]Joan Walsh, “Another grim midterm election: Let the soul searching begin,” Salon, November 5, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/11/05/another_grim_midterm_election_let_the_soul_searching_begin/
  17. [17]John Cassidy, “A Disastrous Night for the Democrats,” New Yorker, November 5, 2014, http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/disastrous-night-democrats
  18. [18]John Cassidy, “A Disastrous Night for the Democrats,” New Yorker, November 5, 2014, http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/disastrous-night-democrats
  19. [19]Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, “Battle for the Senate: How the GOP did it,” Washington Post, November 4, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/battle-for-the-senate-how-the-gop-did-it/2014/11/04/a8df6f7a-62c7-11e4-bb14-4cfea1e742d5_story.html

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